Every March, Calgary’s restaurants open their doors and invite foodies and non-foodies alike to try their specially chosen prix-fixed menus. Eighty-five local eateries signed up for 2016 offering a two or three course lunch, from $15-$25, a three course dinner for $25-$35, or a five course gourmet dinner for $65.
I decided to visit a few local favorites as well as some hidden gems to see what tasty bites they had come up with.
Boxwood is quaintly located in the southwest corner of Central Memorial Park and is a restaurant I’ve been meaning to visit forever! I decided to pop by to try their $15 lunch that included your choice of sandwich and side, along with a cookie. I decided to go with the lamb sandwich with lemony lentils as a side, while my girlfriend went with the chicken sandwich with the roasted root vegetable salad. The lamb sandwich was scrumptious, tender pieces of lamb paired well with the nice salty richness from the goat feta, however, I found my sandwich to be a tad bit dry. The chicken sandwich, on the other hand, was both flavourful and very moist with a cranberry like spread to go along with their sweet onion aoili. The roasted vegetable salad featured tender roasted beets and carrots with some mixed greens and a nice tart vinaigrette; while the lemony lentils had a nice curry kick but was a bit lacking in seasoning. The dessert featured your choice of a homemade chocolate chip oatmeal cookies or a cinnamon honey cookie, both were delicious with the cinnamon honey cookie reminding me of mini doughnuts!
With this restaurant being a stones throw from the office, I decided to give them a visit for their $25 lunch with Heather Eats! The first course was a brussels sprout Caesar salad, which was creative spin on a classic. The bitterness from the brussels sprout and spice from the croutons played well with the rich dressing. The main course was an Asian twist on chicken and dumplings, with a vibrant tom yum broth, with so many complex notes from the fish sauce, ginger and lime. The dumplings acted as umami bombs, that when you cut into them allowed the vegetables to mix with the enoki mushrooms adding a unique flavour profile to the broth. The chicken ended up being a bit dry but overall this was a great dish! The dessert of freshly baked rosemary chocolate chip cookies was a hit with both of us, it was a great balance of savoury rosemary with sweet chocolate!
This hidden gem is tucked away between Aida’s and Sushi Kawa on 4th Street, I dragged some friends to try out their $35 dinner offering. The first course was a spicy tuna tartare with crispy wontons and some balsamic vinager. The tartare was light and refreshing, offering a mild spice that paired well with the salty wontons and tart balsamic. What I liked most is that the fish still had some texture while not having any type of fishy after-taste. The second course was campanelle with a wagyu meat sauce that was very rich and perfeclty seasoned. The pasta was paired with a wagyu beef meatball (Tskukune) with a “teriyaki” sauce; it was both sweet and a bit tart which made for a good bite. However, we were left wondering why you would use such a nice cut of beef and present it as a meatball? The dessert was a beautifully plated pink grapefruit gelée, which definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. The fresh grapefruit made the desert very bitter, while the sweet meringue and lemon sorbet weren’t enough to sweeten up the dish.
I had to visit Shokunin for lunch, as they are located so close to the office, this time I dragged some co-workers with me to try out their rotating “lunch set”. On this day, the chef was presenting a foie gras miso soup, Japanese potato salad, braised eggplant (Ruri Nasu), seasoned rice topped with a lightly poached egg, Hamachi sashimi, lightly seared tuna, spicy tuna and pickled octopus. A tray full of deliciousness as the miso soup was rich and aggressively seasoned, while the potato salad was lightly dressed and had a wasabi like heat to it. The eggplant was super tender and had tons of umami undertones, however the star of the show was the fish. The flavours were so fresh and clean which allowed the fish to shine, while the creaminess of the egg mixed well with the neutral rice. Overall, a fantastic lunch for $15 and I can only hope this is what their lunch specials look like going forward.
The last Big Taste meal for the week was the $35 three-course dinner at The Embarcadero, which had a selection for each course. For the first course, we went with the duck spring rolls, which were perfectly fried and had a fair bit of the rich duck meat. The accompanying dark cherry hoisin sauce cut through that richness but was much too sweet. With four choices for the main course, we defaulted to the server’s suggestion of vegetarian risotto. While the risotto was cooked well, the dish lacked seasoning in a big way. The vegetable medley did offer some crunch and freshness to counteract the creaminess of the risotto. For dessert, we opted for the mini chocolate cake, which was moist, not overly sweet and just the right size to end the meal.
With Big Taste 2016 in the books, it’s time to focus on some fun food events coming up around the city including YYC Taco Fiesta (April 29 – May 5), Alberta Burger Fest (May 6-16) and YYC Pizza Week (late September). From this year’s Big Taste selection I’d say my favorite dish had to be the Chicken & Dumplings Tom Yum Soup from The Mission, I think the umami filled dumplings is what won me over! While my least favorite was the Pink Grapefruit Gelée from Carino Riserva as I’m just not a fan of bitter desserts!
What were some of your favorite Big Taste dishes Calgary??